A hugely popular news story about a jilted dentist accused of pulling out all her ex-boyfriend's teeth has unraveled as a hoax.
News websites around the world ran the story last week about a woman in Poland named Anna Maćkowiak who took revenge on a man named Marek Olszewski when he turned up at her clinic complaining of toothache, days after dumping her for another woman.
Among the numerous U.S. news sites that picked up the story were Fox News, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post, Yahoo! News, MSN, the New York Post, and The New York Daily News. (Msnbc.com is a joint venture of Microsoft, which operates MSN, and Comcast.)
The story even included quotes from the scorned dentist and her toothless ex.
"I tried to be professional and detach myself from my emotions. But when I saw him lying there I just thought, "What a b******," Maćkowiak was quoted as saying.
Quotes attributed to the boyfriend victim meanwhile read: "I knew something was wrong because when I woke up I couldn’t feel any teeth ... When I got home I looked in the mirror and couldn't f******* believe it. The b**** had emptied my mouth."
Online news outlets also reported that his new girlfriend had left him because "she can’t be with a man without teeth."
The story claimed Maćkowiak is being investigated for medical malpractice and could face up to three years in jail.
But when msnbc.com contacted police in Wroclaw, Poland, about the supposed criminal case, a spokesman said they had no record of such an incident.
"Lower Silesia Police Department has not been notified about such an event and is not investigating such a case," Pawel Petrykowski of the Provincial Police Headquarters in Wroclaw said in an email that was translated into English.
A legal adviser for Poland’s Chamber of Physicians and Dentists, which handles disciplinary matters, said the organization is not investigating and has never investigated any such case, and added that there is no dental practitioner named Anna Maćkowiak listed in Poland’s central register of dentists.
"No information about this kind of misconduct has been provided to the Supreme Chamber," the legal advisor, Marek Szewczyński, said in an email. "The Supreme Chamber is also not aware of any actions of this kind being taken by the Regional Chamber of Physicians and Dentists in Wroclaw, which would be the competent authority in case of a possible professional misconduct committed by a dental practitioner from Wroclaw."
Most online news outlets in Poland left the story alone.
Polish television news channel TVN4 published an article mocking foreign media's coverage of the story, which it speculates began as a prank. "It appears that the article, written as a joke, began life on the Internet and has little to do with any truth," the translated article reads.
All the news reports about Maćkowiak published on news websites in the U.S. and elsewhere, such as Australia’s Herald Sun or New Zealand Herald, can be traced back to an article published in the online edition of Britain's Daily Mail newspaper.
The article, which has been shared on Facebook more than 75,000 times since it was published on April 27, appears under the byline of staff reporter Simon Tomlinson.
But Tomlinson said he does not know where the story came from and distanced himself from it when questioned about its origins.
"I've drawn a bit of a blank," he said in an email. "The (Daily) Mail Foreign Service, which did the piece for the paper, is really just an umbrella term for copy put together from agencies. My news desk isn’t sure where exactly it came from."
The American Dental Association’s national spokesperson, David Johnson Jr., said the story of Maćkowiak’s revenge was highly improbable -- not just as an unprecedented abuse of the doctor-patient relationship but because most dentists are equipped to administer drugs only for conscious sedation dentistry. That would mean the ex-boyfriend would know his teeth were being extracted as it was happening, rather than realizing it after he arrived home.
"Patients are already fearful enough of going to the dentist," said Johnson, who has an oral surgery practice in Tennessee. "It’s really concerning if anyone is delaying getting treatment because they think there is even a possibility that something like having all their teeth removed could ever happen."
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